There was, between two busy boulevards, a blind alley where grapevines and rosehips and dandelion bushes had long since taken over the edges of the disorderly back courtyards. A small, barely-paved road ran along the centre of the alley, between the walls and old wooden gates behind the three- and four-story tall buildings. Nestled at the end was the Hidden Tea House, a small tea shop and salon run by a woman called Kaori-san by all the neighbours (and especially the alleyway kids).

The tea shop’s windows gleamed like warm sea glass in the sunlight that crept along between the dissonant backs of all the buildings lining the alley. The Hidden Tea House was covered in dozens of different plants. Kaori-san liked to grow everything from tomatoes to coquelicots in large, recuperated terracotta pots. A sheet of rice paper hung inside the door, where the word “Ouvert” was legible in a thick, pleasing script. A strong aroma of hot rice and eggplant hovered just beyond the stoop, the shop’s front door propped by a small brick.

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